Watchdog Group Gets DOJ Response To Its Call For Probe of Congressman
By Steve Bagley | October 22, 2009 12:09 pm
Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.) (gov)

Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.) (gov)

Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.) isn’t worried about a group of activists’ calls for an investigation into his personal finances, the Arkansas News reported yesterday.

Citing a September report from the non-profit investigative journalism Web site Pro-Publica, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington sent a letter to the DOJ’s Public Integrity Section asking them to probe a two-year-old real estate transaction.

The DOJ responded to CREW’s letter with a boilerplate response telling the watchdogs they took the complaint “seriously,” the group announced yesterday.

In 2007, Ross and his wife Holly sold a pharmacy they owned in Prescott, Ark., to USA Drug, a company based in Pine Bluff, Ark. According to CREW, USA Drug overvalued the sale by at least $140,000 when they bought it for $420,000.

Pro-Publica said in their investigation that the Ross family made much more money. In addition to the $420,000, USA Drug owner Stephen LaFrance paid the Ross family between $500,000 and $1 million for the pharmacy’s assets, and paid Holly Ross an additional sum valued between $100,001 and $250,000 for signing a non-compete agreement.

That’s a haul worth somewhere between $1 million and $1.67 million, Pro-Publica said.

The question for CREW is whether the pharmaceutical industry used the sale to influence Ross, chairman of the conservative Blue Dog Democrats. Ross has been an outspoken opponent of Democratic health care reform measures supported by liberals, including the public option.

With the sale of the business, CREW wrote in their letter, Ross “has gone from accepting campaign contributions from those with legislative interests before him to accepting significant personal benefits of dubious legality.”

The sale occurred well before President Obama’s efforts to reform health care got underway. According to the News, Ross responded to the complaint:

“This business transaction had nothing to do with my being a member of Congress and everything to do with an Arkansas-based family pharmacy business buying a pharmacy my family and I have worked hard since 1993 to develop into a successful, trusted and respected business in my hometown.”

According to the News, Ross spokesman Brad Howard dismissed CREW’s concerns. “Anyone with a pen and piece of paper can file a complaint with the Department of Justice,” Howard said. “This was nothing more than a standard DOJ form letter acknowledging they received a complaint. There is really no news here.”

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